Inside Carol Christ, UC Berkeley's First Female Chancellor

On March 16, 2017, The University of California Board of Regents confirmed Carol T. Christ as Berkeley’s 11th chancellor, the first woman in the university’s 149-year history to hold that position. Christ will officially replace current Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks on July 1, 2017. Because this event is noteworthy for the UC Berkeley community and because it demonstrates the phenomenal progress of women in academics, let’s take a moment to recognize Christ and what she has to offer us in the upcoming school year. 



        Carol Christ was born in New York City, and graduated with high honors from Douglass College, the women’s college at Rutgers University, in 1966. She received a Ph.D. in English from Yale University, and joined UC Berkeley’s faculty in 1970, back when only 3% of Berkeley’s faculty was female. Her specialty in English literature and sub-discipline in Victorian literature earned her the position of chair of Berkeley’s English Department, and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost of the College of Letters and Science from 1994 to 2000. In 2002, Christ left Berkeley to serve as president of Smith College and held that position until 2013. 


        Now, what about Christ’s career qualifies her for the position of Chancellor? Well, UC Berkeley has always stood as an institution dedicated to diversity and inclusion, and as president of Smith College, Christ had a wide-reaching and successful program to encourage this. Called The Smith Design for Learning: A Plan to Reimagine a Liberal Arts Education, emphasized coursework that taught students about American cultures and the diversity of experience of American ethnic groups. Among the priority areas she identified were international studies, environmental sustainability, and community engagement. 


Oftentimes, at big universities, departments pertaining to culture and ethnicity are underfunded and unrecognized, which is a problem when it comes to promoting tolerance on campus and later on, in the workplace. However, at UC Berkeley it is a requirement that all students take a course in American cultures in order to graduate. Having Christ lead the brigade to promote these courses will be beneficial to the campus community. 



        In terms of support Christ has gotten from fellow academics, colleagues and student leaders praise Christ for always being transparent and accessible. These traits will prove necessary for properly handling campus sexual assault, an issue that Chancellor Dirks has failed to adequately address, and for engaging student input so that changes made will benefit students. UC President Janet Napolitano endorsed Christ’s championing for gender equality and diversity, calling her “a remarkable person, a visionary and a first”. 


Christ accepted her nomination with the words that “Berkeley transformed me and it transformed my understanding of education,” she was deeply honored “to lead Berkeley at this critical moment in its history.” We’re excited to see what Chancellor Christ has in store for us!